March 17th, 2021
By Hamid Riaz
The Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) has announced protest rallies in various parts of the world against treason charges levied against their leader Manzoor Pashteen along with three others. The rallies are slated for Friday, March 19, 2021.
On Sunday, March 14, Mansehra City police station lodged a First Information Report (FIR) against the four PTM members, for allegedly firing at journalists and chanting anti-army slogans at the Hazara motorway’s Mansehra interchange.
A day earlier, on March 13, a video of the confrontation between PTM activists and the Tehreek-e-Inqilab Sooba Hazara (TISH) went viral on social media. Both the groups sloganeered against each other, eventually culminating in a shootout.
Observers have called this FIR a continuation of the state’s campaign of severe repression upon the members of the social movement which has always been openly ‘anti-war’.
Contents of the FIR and the complainants:
Even though the clash took place between activists of two political organizations, neither of the involved parties approached the police. Instead, the FIR was lodged by journalists and office bearers of the Mansehra Press Club present at the time of the incident.
“The TISH had planned a pro-Pakistan rally in Mansehra on March 23, Pakistan Day. On the day of the incident, the organization was holding rehearsal rallies across Mansehra to publicize their event. I along with a few other colleagues from the Mansehra Press Club were accompanying them to cover their activities,” explains Muhammad Ikram Qureshi, Vice-President of the Mansehra Press Club and the main complainant in the FIR.
“Late at night, Hazara activists began gathering at the Mansehra toll plaza for a flag hoisting ceremony, when all of a sudden they saw two cars approaching the plaza. Some activists spotted Manzoor Pashteen in one of the cars. Since most of the activists were pro-Pakistan, they could not control their emotions so they blockaded the convoy and started pelting the convoy with eggs and later bricks and stones. This is when the situation got out of hand,” continues Qureshi.
He adds that after a few minutes, at least two armed members of the PTM exited their vehicles, cursed at the State, and started directly firing at the Hazara activists’ rally. Qureshi also suffered serious injuries after being assaulted by PTM activists attempting to protect some young boys. Additionally, PTM activists injured several others and attempted to gun down journalists.
The story seemed unfounded as Voicepk.net was not able to independently verify these claims, and Ikram failed to provide medical reports or even pictures to substantiate these grave allegations against the PTM.
Ikhlaq Khan, President of the Mansehra Press Club, who was present at the time of the registration of the FIR stated that although he had not witnessed the attack himself, he was willing to stand up for his fellow journalists as he has ‘seen enough proof’.
“It is such a sad occurrence. Reporters were shot at, but instead of supporting us, several established journalists including Matiullah Jan and Saleem Safi are maligning us,” exclaims Khan, who has been making fiery speeches and demands for the ‘public execution’ of the ‘traitors’ Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen.
Khan further claims that he has forwarded the details of the incident to his channel’s provincial bureau chief, who denied ever receiving any such information and tossed out Khan’s claims.
Voicepk.net reached out to local journalists and members of the Mansehra Press Club to assess the validity of the astonishing claims made by Qureshi and Khan. According to reporters from Mansehra, Qureshi and Khan are a part of a small group of journalists who have a history of being involved in criminal activities and have also been accused in the past of taking payment to push fake news. Moreover, Nasir Ali Tanoli, Qureshi’s colleague and a co-complainant in the FIR was terminated from a reputed private media organization over proven allegations of corruption.
Members of the Mansehra Press Club also further stated that Qureshi and Khan are not even elected office bearers of the Club, and have appointed themselves on these coveted positions.
“This year’s Press Club elections could not take place because of the coronavirus pandemic. So long-term members of the Press Club along with previous office bearers selected an interim cabinet to look after its affairs until proper elections could be conducted. But Ikhlaq Qureshi and Ikram Khan refused to recognize this interim committee. Instead, they have become self-appointed office bearers and have started handing out memberships to their cronies. They have taken over the Press Club with around 100 or so supporters who claim they are journalists,” revealed a senior member of the Mansehra Press Club under the condition of anonymity.
The informant also contradicted Qureshi’s version of events.
“The legitimate office bearers of the Mansehra Press Club met with PTM activists under the leadership of the interim-President Waseem Sarwar and expressed solidarity with the party over the incident. If the PTM had fired upon members of the Press Club, why would a delegation from that very Club meet with them?” he asks.
Speaking to this scribe, the informant and several other local journalists have termed the Mansehra incident a planned conspiracy against the PTM. Several other senior journalists in the broader Hazara region have also denied receiving independent accounts of reporters being fired upon by PTM activists.
So far the police have taken no action to pursue the FIR but the investigating officer has termed the incident worrisome. “On the face of it these are very serious allegations and we are bound to launch an investigation into the matter,” explains Arshad the officer charged with investigating the matter.
When asked about why treason charges were added to the FIR Arshad claims that the police did not initially add treason charges to the FIR but was specially asked to do so by the Deputy Commissioner of Mansehra. The DC Mansehra did not respond to our request for comment.
The PTM’s response
While speaking to Voicepk.net senior leaders of the PTM have termed the FIR ‘laughable’.
“Manzoor Pashteen and his associates went to Battagram to attend a funeral procession. On their way back their cars were stopped at the Mansehra interchange and a group of miscreants started pelting heavy stones on his vehicle. When it seemed as if the situation could escalate, armed guards accompanying Manzoor Pashteen got out of the car and fired some shots in the air in self-defense to disperse the crowd. Claims that they fired into a crowd are extremely ludicrous,” explains Alamzaib Mehsud, a member of the PTM’s central core committee.
“You can see in the video that these people were well prepared for a confrontation. If they had gathered at the toll plaza to hoist flags and the confrontation was a random occurrence, why were they carrying anti-PTM posters?” points out Alamzaib. According to Alamzaib, the entire episode was a set-up orchestrated by the country’s powerful military to defame their peaceful movement. “The toll plaza where the incident occurred is under the administrative control of the Frontier Works Organization (FWO) which is a subsidiary of the Pakistan Army,” points out Alamzaib.
“This is not the first time an FIR has been registered against the senior leaders of the PTM. But the state should know that were have refused to bow down in the past and will continue to do so in the future as well. The state should act responsibly because such cowardly tactics will add fuel to the fire,” asserts Alamzaib. “Do not push us over the edge,” he warns.